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Creative Nonfiction Prize

Meet the readers: Andris Taskans

We're introducing you to the 10 talented Canadian writers who helped narrow down the 2,300+ entries for the 2011-2012 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize into the longlist.

Today, the founding editor of Prairie Fire on the value of holding on to your work until it's truly ready.

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in Winnipeg and mostly I write grant applications and reports.

What's your day job?
I am the editor of Prairie Fire, a literary magazine I helped found in 1978.

What's your literary street cred? 
I'm not sure I have any "street cred".

Why did you want to be a reader for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize? 
One of my colleagues was a reader for the Fiction Prize a few years ago and said the money was good.

What do you like most about nonfiction?
I like that it obliges the writer to pay at least a modest amount of attention to the world as it is.

Where did you read the entries?
At home, in my living room and in my study.

When you're reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?  
I'm looking for language that is fresh, characters and incidents that stay with me, a distinctive voice, something new.

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts?  
As I recall, "Temp" started in a low key but as it progressed, told a compelling story of the ability of art (music, literature) to foster human relationships even in soul-destroying workplaces. The writer had a terrific ability to sketch characters in a few words. This story went up in my estimation every time I read it.

"The Year of Falling Apart" is the most poetic of my choices. It achieves its emotionally intense effect through a combination of repetition and progression, with well chosen language.

"The Man Who Invented Journalism" uses journalism's virtue of brevity to tell an intensely compact personal story enlivened with vivid vignettes.

What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
At the simplest level, I have to enjoy reading it. For me, that means it has to be well written but also has to have a compelling subject.

Having read all these stories, do you have tips, any dos and don'ts for story writers?
I think too many writers send out their work before it's ready. If they've read or listened to previous winning stories, they've learned little or nothing from them. If you, the writer, can't tell the difference between your subpar effort and something that's been lauded, you haven't finished learning your craft.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Well, there's something bracing about reading so much in so short a time. I'm pleased that I can still remember the best and a few of the worst, too.

Andris Taskans is a founding editor of Prairie Fire magazine and a founding member of the Manitoba Writers' Guild. He was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 Western Magazine Awards and received the Making a Difference Award at the Winnipeg Arts Council's Mayor's Luncheon for the Arts in 2009. He has published one poetry chapbook, Jukebox Junkie.

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